UK Government Wants WhatsApp and Signal to Remove End-to-end Encryption

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020 file photo, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a thumbs up gesture after signing the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement at 10 Downing Street, London. It was late on Christmas Eve last year when the European Union and Britain finally clinched a Brexit trade deal after years of wrangling, threats and missed deadlines to seal their divorce. Such was the bile and bad blood stirred up by the diplomatic brinkmanship and bitter divorce that, two months from another Christmas, insults of treachery and duplicitousness are flying again. (Leon Neal/Pool via AP, File)

The British government has passed a new bill called the “Online Safety Bill” and this new bill will require that messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal get rid of an important security feature. For this reason, WhatsApp, Signal and other messaging services have written an open letter to the government of Britain. The letter is an appeal letter which is urging the government to reconsider its new bill. The bill in question is a new legislation that allow regulators to ask the platforms to monitor users. According to the UK, this will help avoid or identify child abuse images.

The New UK Government Bill is a Threat to End-to-end Encryption on WhatsApp and Others

UK Government WhatsApp

This new bill gives power to the government to force messaging platforms to apply content moderation policies. These policies will allow the platforms to perform client-side scanning. Performing a client-side scanning simply means the platforms will have to get rid of end-to-end encryption. The content of the letter reads:

“Around the world, businesses, individuals and governments face persistent threats from online fraud, scams and data theft”. Malicious actors and hostile states routinely challenge the security of our critical infrastructure. End-to-end encryption is one of the strongest possible defenses against these threats and as vital institutions become ever more dependent on internet technologies to conduct core operations, the stakes have never been higher.

As currently drafted, the Bill could break end-to-end encryption. Opening the door to routine, general and indiscriminate surveillance of personal messages. Messages of friends, family members, employees, executives, journalists, human rights activists and even politicians themselves. This would fundamentally undermine everyone’s ability to communicate securely.

The Bill provides no explicit protection for encryption. If implemented as written, it could empower OFCOM to try to force the proactive scanning of private messages on end-to-end encrypted communication services. This could potentially damage the purpose of end-to-end encryption as a result. Hence compromising the privacy of all users.

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In short, the Bill poses an unprecedented threat to the privacy, safety and security of every U.K. citizen. The people with whom they communicate around the world, while emboldening hostile governments who may seek to draft copy-cat laws.”

This open letter came with signatures of leaders of various messaging platforms. It was signed by Element chief executive Matthew Hodgson. Oxen Privacy Tech Foundation and Session director Alex Linton, Signal president Meredith Whittaker. Threema chief executive Martin Blatter, Viber chief executive Ofir Eyal, head of WhatsApp Will Cathcart, and Wire chief technical officer Alan Duric. Uk Government WhatsApp

All these platforms seem to frown against the government’s decision, but others totally agreed with the new bill. Apple for example thought it as a great idea. In a statement, Apple said “Children can be protected without companies combing through personal data”. We will continue working with governments, child advocates, and other companies to help protect young people. Preserve their right to privacy and make the internet a safer place for children and for us all.

UK Government May Fine WhatsApp and Others it they Break the Rule

To every rule, there is a punishment that comes to those who break it. This new bill is no exemption from that. Thew bill states that, platforms who refuse to apply the content moderation policies could face fines. Such fines can amount to 4% of the platform’s total yearly income. Companies like WhatsApp. Signal and Proton have already hinted on pausing encryption in the UK. They have also clarified that they will withdraw from the UK market if the bill forces them to scan users’ content.

The parliamentary sitting on the bill is not yet over. It will return to the UK Parliament in the summer.

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